Situated in the epicenter of Europe, France's border regions tempt with often-overlooked delights. By exploring the country's edges, you can find influences of Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland--or even quickly cross over to visit these countries as well.
France and the German BorderIn the Alsace region, everything is transformed by nearby Germany. After all, the region's biggest city, Strasbourg, is across the Rhine River from Germany. Menus feature choucroute, or sauerkraut. The regional specialty, baeckoffe, is like nothing you will find in Paris.
Meat, potatoes, herbs and onions marinate for a day, then are roasted in a terrine for hours. The result is delightful. Instead of coq au vin, you will find coq au Reisling, usually served over homemade egg noodles. The architecture more closely resembled a German fairy tale than a typical French city, with timbered houses. Many spots have dual-language signs in both French and German.
France and the Spanish BorderTastes of Spain can be found in the Southwest of France, where the rooftops are dappled in gold and and orange as the sun beats down. The Languedoc-Roussillon's regional fare reflects the intensity of the Pyrenees Mountains in the area.
Hearty dishes like cassoulet, consisting of Toulouse sausage, duck and white beans, are served with robust red wine. Locals speak with a certain Spanish roll to their Rs, instead of the typical nasal French pronunciation.
France and the Italian BorderThe pedestrian walkways of Nice, just a few minutes from Italy, are filled with sidewalk cafés. The menus, however, include spaghetti or carbonara, not beouf bourignon or foie gras. The famous markets there feature farmers selling rows of various olives, all the size of golfballs. Much of the Cote d'Azur's cuisine features a touch of Northern Italian classics.
France and the Belgian BorderIn the Nord-Pas-De-Calais across the border from Belgium, people are as likely to order beer with dinner as wine. Instead of vineyards dotting the landscape, there are a few microbreweries here. This area takes after neighboring Belgium, which produces more varieties of beer per capita than any other nation.
France and the Swiss BorderThe Rhône-Alpes region is known for its skiing, snow-capped mountain vistas and its delectable sweets and pastries, much like its neighbor across the Alps, Switzerland.
France is heavenly from any region, but stop just short of crossing the borders to mingle some of the world's best influences and flavors together.